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Putin’s Nuclear War Threats over Ukraine: Is He Serious?

Tactical Nuclear Weapons
US Military B-61 nuclear weapon. Image Credit: US DOD.

The invasion of Ukraine is going so poorly for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military that the Kremlin has repeatedly threatened a nuclear strike.

Nuclear Threats over Ukraine 

When last week Putin made his televised address announcing the partial mobilization of the Russian reserves and calling 300,000 reserves to show up for duty, he intentionally presented the nuclear scenario to the Russian people in order to gain some legitimacy for his decisions.

“Even nuclear blackmail has come into play. We are talking not only about the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant encouraged by the West. . .but also about statements by some high-ranking representatives of leading NATO countries on the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia—nuclear weapons,” Putin had said.

“I want to remind those who allow themselves such statements that our country also has a variety of weapons of mass destruction and in some areas even more modern than those in NATO countries. And if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without any question use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff,” Putin had added.

In response to Putin’s threats, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. is taking the Russian threats seriously, highlighting that this isn’t the first time Putin has made the nuclear threat since the war started.

“And we have communicated, directly, privately, to the Russians at very high levels, that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Sullivan stated.

Tactical Nuclear Strike Threats

Putin’s threats most certainly concern a tactical nuclear strike as opposed to a strategic one. The difference between the two has to do with scope. In a tactical nuclear strike scenario, the military in question is using the munition to gain operational advantage over its adversary.

For example, a military could deploy a tactical nuke to destroy a large concentration of enemy troops that are gearing up for an attack and then take advantage of the losses and confusion to launch its own offensive. Another example would be to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon to stop the offensive of an opponent who is threatening your forces with encirclement or destruction. Tactical nuclear strikes are intended to give a military advantage on the battlefield.

Conversely, strategic nuclear strikes seek to take out key socioeconomic and political hubs and bend the will of a population to continue fighting.

The atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 are the only examples of strategic nuclear strikes. The United States had asked for the unconditional surrender of Japan, and when President Harry Truman didn’t get an answer, he greenlighted the two strikes in an attempt to apply maximum pressure on the Japanese to surrender. In the end, his gamble (the U.S. didn’t have any more atomic bombs, and it would take months before another one was ready) paid off, and the Japanese surrendered shortly thereafter.

Largest Nuclear Arsenal 

Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, with approximately 6,400 nuclear warheads divided into its nuclear triad (missiles that could be launched from the air, ground, and sea).

In comparison, the U.S. military can field about 5,800 nuclear warheads.

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. TheDon

    September 26, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    Gulp.
    Putin firing a nuclear missile into Ukraine? I wonder if 23&me can determine the genetic mix of Russian and Ukrainians.

    The question to Putin is if his nuclear missiles maintenance is as bad as his other equipment, they may explode premature, not meet target, and kill both Russian and Ukrainians. A misguided missile may hit a nato country whos weapons are maintained.

    So will one mans anger destroy millions and is the fall of Russia worth one war?

    Generals, its time to stop Putin’s insanity.

  2. 403Forbidden

    September 27, 2022 at 12:12 am

    Putin’s serious. It’s no joking matter when well-armed fascismo forces are knocking on your front gate.

    But biden is to take blame for all of it if any mushroom cloud appears over kyiv cuz biden through his severe dementia-afflicted brain decided to go all pursuing his hellishly aggressive monroe doctrine overreach.

    We know biden doesn’t have much time left on Earth, but must he be allowed to dictate that hundreds of thousands or millions of humans provide him company on his way to the pearly gates.

    Unfortunately, the US political system is imperfect & highly defective not providing any effective mechanism to remove a sitting president even if he’s possessed of totally grandiose dreams of hellish bloody gory glory.

  3. CRS, DrPH

    September 27, 2022 at 2:41 am

    Putin said “I want to remind those who allow themselves such statements that our country also has a variety of weapons of mass destruction and in some areas even more modern than those in NATO countries.”

    Yeah, the Russians use only the finest refrigerators and washing machines to make their WMD.

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